What exactly will it take for authorities to act on our behalf?

Theresa Takafuma
Posted March 8, 2019 from Zimbabwe

Public transport touting is illegal in my country—Zimbabwe, and the authorities have been on record saying they want to eliminate it, but what is on the ground tells a totally different story.

Touts harass people, women especially at all the popular public transport termini (most of which are illegal too) across the country and no one seems to care enough.

My fear for these touts continues to grow, as they can stop at nothing to make sure that you do what they want, and from my experience, this can only be classified as terrorism in the full glare of the police.

A few weeks ago I was travelling from Harare to Bulawayo with the intention of using public transport. My sister was seeing me off, so we went to a terminus called "Showground" so that I could get a straight bus to Bulawayo.

There were a few buses that were loading passengers to Bulawayo and I thought I had the choice of which bus I was going to use.  

As soon as we arrived at the terminus, more than five touts came charging at us, literally forcing us to board their bus and we had to lie that we were not travelling, we were just going to wait for someone.

The temporarily left us alone, and we just stood under a tree with my sister, feeling powerless and defeated. I did not want to board their bus, firstly because there were just a few passengers in it and also I was already scared of their aggression.

Few metres away, three police officers stood there, watching us being harassed by these touts, and never dared to raise a finger or even look our way. They looked like they did not want to be bothered.

After about ten minutes, we gathered enough courage and started walking towards another bus which looked better, silently hoping the police officers would come to our rescue if the touts struck again, but before we knew it, the touts were all over us, grabbing our handbags, threatening us with unspecified action if we refused to use the bus they wanted and intimidating us.

I tried standing up to them, but I was no match to these tough looking monsters who looked like they would stop at nothing to either harm me physically or steal my valuables. Meanwhile, the police officers had walked away in the opposite direction.

All this time, the touts were shouting obscenities to me and my sister, calling us all sorts of names, whilst trying to grab our bags.

I summoned a lot more courage and tried to plough my way through the wall of men that had formed around me and my sister, and that is when I learnt that these men would surely do anything to shake the very foundations of my courage: one of them grabbed my left breast.

As I tried to get my mind around it, another one slapped my butt, and in that very moment, another was trying to snatch my handbag, pulling my bra straps with it.

If I say I was dumbfound it would be an understatement—I was shocked. Right there, in broad daylight, I had just been sexually assaulted in front of the police.

I quickly retreated backwards, with my sister as a shield, and as she was busy protecting me, she was exposing herself to further groping all over her body.

I felt all my insecurities summoning each other, and I felt so helpless and worthless. When they finally saw that they had intimidated us enough to send their message, they left us. I wouldn't say they willingly left us, because my sister was now screaming at the top of her voice, threatening to report them.

Eventually the ordeal was a little bit over. That afternoon, I ended up boarding that bus—a bus with operators that sought the services of touts who fearlessly attack women in broad daylight.

I had been looking forward to my Bulawayo journey, because it was my first time travelling that route. My friend Addi had told me about the beauty of the Munyati and Kwekwe Rivers which are on the highway, and I was looking forward to snap a picture or two.

When we passed Kwekwe River, I was in tears, shook from what had happened to me, and I do not even remember if I saw Munyati River—my journey had been ruined.

From the whole ordeal, what hurt me most was that I was not only harassed in front of the police, but I was also sexually assaulted, all in the name of being forced to use a service I did not want to use.

This is the first time I have gained enough courage to write about that ordeal; an ordeal that left my self-esteem injured more so because the fingerprints of that tout are still visible on my blouse, right there on the breast. I have not washed it yet. I do not have the strength.

I feel so let down by the authorities, and I know hate is a strong word, but the experience left me with nothing but hate for the system that promises to restore order but does not make a deliberate effort and continues to pay lip service to a problem that has left many women vulnerable, some even dead.

I remember reading a story of a pregnant woman who was hit on the tummy by these touts at another popular bus terminus and ended up losing both her life and her baby only a few hours later. Isn't that enough cause to act? What exactly will it take then?

I am thinking of taking self defence classes, or even become a karateka, but then again, I see that as fighting violence with violence, which is not an option.

One thing I know for sure is that I will not stop talking and writing about how vulnerable women are at the hands of touts until someone hears us out. Something has to give, and until then, I will never stop. That feeling of helplessness that afternoon triggered something in me that speaks to the protection of a sisterhood, and that sisterhood involves all women who may find themselves in that predicament.

This International Women's Day I am taking a stance to fight using my voice—my keyboard and screen. One day the noise will be too much to ignore.

All I need is to travel around my country in peace, but I cannot because the authorities are turning a blind eye to a problem—because it is garbed in a dress and looks like a woman.

This story was submitted in response to Change Starts With a Story.

Comments 18

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Olutosin
Mar 08
Mar 08

In Nigeria, its the same, I have concluded within my mind that touts are more powerful than our government, especially in Lagos state.

Theresa Takafuma
Mar 08
Mar 08

Dear sis
It's so sad that the authorities have the capacity to fix this problem, but they are letting us down. Let's keep raising our voices. We have to do this.

Obisakin Busayo
Mar 08
Mar 08

We will not allow them to rest my Sister! it is same here. We will continue to raise our voice.

Theresa Takafuma
Mar 08
Mar 08

We must keep nudging. A push will become a shove, and one day they won't be able to sleep becaise of our noise.

Jill Langhus
Mar 08
Mar 08

Hi Theresa,

I'm so truly sorry you and your sister had this experience. How horrible. I looked up "touting" but couldn't find it, but it sounds like there are men that push you to use a certain public transport? Is that what you mean? How come the police don't want to deal with the problem? That's not good if they're scared of these men, too. I'm glad that you shared your experience so that you can heal and also to spread awareness, too, but I do wish that it wasn't happening in the first place, and that something was being done about it!

Theresa Takafuma
Mar 08
Mar 08

Hi Jill
Yes, it is what you have described above. These men will more than push you to use public transport of their choice. They get paid by bus operators so they stop at absolutely nothing. In Zimbabwe it has become much of an ignored criminal menace. The stories of harrassment have become too much. Sadly enough they do this in front of the police. It's really sad. I had to tell my story, because it kept haunting me. I feel better now, after promising myself that I will speak/write about this until it reaches the relevant ear/eye. Thank you for the words of encouragement.

Jill Langhus
Mar 09
Mar 09

Hello dear,

Okay. Thanks for the clarification. Yes, it appears that way, unfortunately. I find it unnerving enough when someone touches my elbow and propels me somewhere, or even gestures to me in a rude way to come to their restaurant, so I can only imagine how jarring and traumatic these types of experiences are:(

You're welcome. I do hope you consider starting a change.org petition so that the police will be held accountable, and that this heinous practice can be brought to an end.

Theresa Takafuma
Mar 09
Mar 09

Hi
Thanks for the idea. Let me start working on it right away. Thank you for encouraging me.

Jill Langhus
Mar 10
Mar 10

Hello Theresa,

You're very welcome:-) Yay! I'm excited for this development. Please let me know when you have it ready and I will gladly share the petition on my social media pages, and as much as I can. This needs to stop! Also, Insia is a great resource on how to create a successful change.org petition, too. Let me know if you would like me to connect, or introduce you to her. I would be more than happy to.

Theresa Takafuma
Mar 11
Mar 11

Hi Jill
Thank you. May you kindly introduce me to Insia. Connecting me with her would be really great. Thanks.

Jill Langhus
Mar 11
Mar 11

You're very welcome. I'm glad I could help, especially if it will end this!

Okay. Will do. Stay tuned...

Corine Milano
Mar 08
Mar 08

It takes courage to speak up and share these experiences. Thank you for raising your voice and for committing to speak out on behalf of yourself and this sisterhood. Unfortunately, these experiences are all too common. I am so sorry this has happened to you!

This is an amazing statement - "This International Women's Day I am taking a stance to fight using my voice—my keyboard and screen. One day the noise will be too much to ignore."

YES! If we all join our voices together and continue to speak out and advocate for ourselves and others - our voices will indeed be too much to ignore. I feel it is already happening, and I am strengthened by all the stories that are coming in today on World Pulse, including yours!

Thank you deeply for sharing this and for your courage. We hear you! And we are with you.

Theresa Takafuma
Mar 08
Mar 08

Hi Corine
Thank you for the the words of encouragement. It was such a traumatic experience. I consider myself a woman with a voice, who is empowered. I always stand up for myself where I feel I'm being suppressed BUT that experience left me questioning my self worth. It left a scar on my self esteem, but then I told myself that I owe it to myself and to many sisters who have gone/will go through the same. I will speak about it. I will make noise about it if need be. Myself and many women I know use public transport because it is affordable. What then becomes of us if we are deprived of our freedom to travel freely and safely? I sincerely hope my voice will be loud enough to bring us the relief we so deserve.

Leina
Mar 08
Mar 08

Thanks for sharing your story with us sis Theresa,you have chosen the most potent weapon -yes your keyboard will demolish them slowly but surely and permanently.

Theresa Takafuma
Mar 08
Mar 08

Dear Leina
Thank you for the encouragement. Surely they say the pen is mightier than the sword. In this case, I hope my words will be mightier. I am hoping to build an army of sisters who are willing to make noise about this using their keyboards and screens. We can't be silenced while we are in pain. No!

Theresa Takafuma
Mar 08
Mar 08

Dear Leina
Thank you for the encouragement. Surely they say the pen is mightier than the sword. In this case, I hope my words will be mightier. I am hoping to build an army of sisters who are willing to make noise about this using their keyboards and screens. We can't be silenced while we are in pain. No!

otahelp
Mar 08
Mar 08

Theresa touts are every where but seriously men are men and will always enjoy seeing women harrassed so their male ego will be satisfied. it will not take anything for the authority to speak for us but they do not want to. there are policies against this but implementation is key. those at the head are men which is why we must get more women into decision making positions.

Theresa Takafuma
Mar 08
Mar 08

Yes sis! The authorities have the capacity, but I really wonder what it will gake for them to act. We are under siege and we have so much to lose, our dignity being one. All we need is to travel freely and safely. Let's keep raising our voices.

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